Friday, 19 March 2010

This is Your Life

The nicest thing about writers is that we come from all walks of life and it's really of no consequence what we do in our day job. When I was in Caerleon, Ray Allen (the writer of Some Mothers Do 'ave 'Em) said he was cleaning toilets at the BBC when he finally cracked it and was signed up for the series. Who cares? It's a bit like singing - take Susan Boyle, for example, or in my home town, Faryl Smith. Very ordinary people with extraordinary talent.

In the garden that represents my life there are a few lush, fertile patches which yield the best pickings for ideas. By far the richest one is meetings, especially the 15 minutes or so beforehand when people are arriving and chatting over coffee. Another good idea generator is the body language, or the things people don't say, rather than what they do say. I'll give you a little example from this week's crop of meetings (names changed to protect the innocent). This was just before the start of the meeting at the coffee machine.

'How did it go, Wilfred?'
'I tell you, mate, it was like playing snakes and bloody ladders. That's the worst thing about Pat, she has an answer for everything. It's so frustrating at times.'

I didn't have a clue what the two people were talking about, but I didn't need to, because the analogy of a game of snakes and ladders with having a difficult conversation was all I needed. That was the first idea that night. Another example was when one of the people at a daytime meeting kept glancing up at the clock, and then there was the distinct buzz of a vibrating mobile phone in her pocket, which she then took out and scrolled down a lengthy text message. While she was reading it she was obviously completely distracted from the meeting because someone mentioned something she should have answered, and didn't. All eyes were on her, but she was reading her text, completely oblivious. Hmmmm ... interesting, or what?

I also like the school playground in the mornings, watching the yummy mummies and the slummy mummies and wondering why one bloke in particular ALWAYS parks his car just a couple of feet over the zig zags near the zebra crossing, even when there's plenty of room for him to park outside the forbidden zone. That says a lot about him, don't you think? And also revs up a writer's imagination into overdrive.

So, if I have rich pickings, idea-wise, in my life, then other Novel Racers must too.

What situations in your life are the best idea generators?

15 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

Makets are rich for me. I sit with a cup of van-made tea and listen to the patois and the conversations of shoppers. Not that I can think of any at the moment.

Debs said...

I had a few meetings this week that I was a little nervous about and then as soon as I remembered to make the most of them for ideas, etc, I ended up thoroughly enjoying them.

The difficult part was remembering to concentrate on what was being said too.

Serendipity said...

Commuting - it is dull and monotonous but then occasionally just overhearing conversations gets my writing head going - this morning I was privy to this gem: "he didn't come home but it's fine he phoned me to say he was working late and ended up sleeping on a friend's sofa." Somewhat suspicious maybe?

HelenMHunt said...

One of the reasons I love to sit and write in coffee shops is that you get to overhear some fabulous conversations. Cafe Nero is good for eavesdropping on youngsters and 'career people' and Sainsbury's cafe is good for 'the pensioner brigade' which I find particularly helpful for picking up nuances of speech and expressions which I can use in dialogue to help make my characters' speech distinct and interesting.

Great question.

Fia said...

Post Office queues. I am adept at vacant expressions while ear wigging intently.

Shopping lists are good too - other people's I mean. I fear I have a small but growing collection of them.

Ellie said...

I often get ideas from music or from listening to the radio. Often though, I have my best ideas when I'm running or walking - my brain can just tick over and sort through all the loose odds and ends to jumble together something new!

JJ Beattie said...

One of the problems of living in Thailand is that I miss so much potential earwigging because my Thai is not up to general conversation!

But I do hang out with expats and they are a rich source particularly as Novel Two is going to be set here.

I almost feel that people watching (not listening) is better than anything else for ideas.

sheepish said...

I am also a devotee of ear wigging at our local market. Fia's comment on shopping lists has me worried though because I never go anywhere without a list and if I find a coat pocket without a list or three then I get panicky. Can i exist without a list I don't think so. Now what does that say about me!!!!Perhaps there is the making of a story in that.

Flowerpot said...

Earwigging definitely. Something that happened at a funeral. Things that have happened to other people - all kinds of things really!

CC Devine said...

Ear-wigging and observing people in public definitely. Sometimes you hear one side of a phone call on the bus or notice the negative body language of a couple on the other side of a cafe, you can't hear their conversation...or is it an argument...a lovers' tiff? Who knows buy my imagination goes wild with all the possibilities.

Likewise I might read a story in a mag or in the paper which can provide inspiration. Sometimes I think of how the outcome might have been different.

Any of these things get the creative juices flowing.

Sylvia Phoenix said...

Whenever I'm at the doctor's, I like to look around at the others in the waiting room. I try to guess what's wrong with them, but often make up stories in my head about how they became ill and the reasons behind it.

Dreams are another good source of ideas and inspiration for me. That is, if I can remember to have a pen and paper by my bedside, otherwise I tend to forget things after I go back to sleep. Then there's daydreaming too. I seem to do a lot of that these days, though I tell everyone that I'm working through a complicated plot line in my mind.

Chris Stovell said...

I'm fresh out of ideas and inspiration tonight so will take note of what everyone else has said instead.

Rowan Coleman said...

I love the fact that people discuss the most intimate details of their life on a mobile phone in public as if no-one else can hear them. For example this extract on the London to Birmingham train during rush hour. 'We did it right there, Sarah, on the kitchen floor. And all I could think was I wished I'd mopped under the fridge.' As for me wellI think I've mentioned my motto is 'its all material!'

Denise said...

I wish meetings at my work were any good for conversations, but they're all men and deathly dull! I'm another advocate of coffee shops because people really do talk about anything. Pubs can be even better for that as all inhibitions vanish.

Train journeys always seem to work for me, maybe because I don't take them very often. There are people around, but there's something about staring out of the window that gets me thinking every time.

Karen said...

TV programmes often inspire ideas for me, and I often think of things when I'm tramping round the fields with Molly-dog :o)